Posted: Friday, October 22, 2021. 11:14 am CST.
By Rubén Morales Iglesias: The Queen of Brukdown, Leela Vernon, a Belizean music icon would have been celebrating her 71st birthday on Thursday, October 21, 2021. Sadly, the singer died at 66 years of age four years and eight months ago on February 19, 2017.
Leela is best known for her song Ah Wah Know Who Seh Creole No Gàh No Culture which she wrote in 1991 for the Belize Games. After countless performances, she would later record it in her Kriol Kolcha CD in 2001. The song went on to become her identity.
Born on October 21, 1950, she grew up in Punta Gorda, as Lila Genus Martinez, Leela grew into an international artist always promoting Belize’s Kriol culture. Her accomplishments did not go unnoticed. She was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 2007. Before that, in 2002 she triumphed in the national Brukdown Contest winning the Artist of the Year award.
In 2011, Flavors International recognized her as the Woman of the year.
In 2016, the Belizean National Institute of Culture and History (NICH) named her National Hero.
She married Mario Samuel Vernon, and had four children: Juliette, Mario Samuel Jr., France Kevin, and André Robert. Vernon was murdered in 1981. Leela would later have one more child, Danika Sierra.
She started imprinting her name in Belize’s culture and music world when she formed a group of dancers, she called the Ibolites (aka Ebolites), with the intent of promoting Kriol culture. The group went on to become very popular and performed internationally in countries like Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and Panama.
Leela composed the song Welcome to Belize by The Sea when she was asked to perform during Queen Elizabeth’s visit in 1994.
In 1995, Leela and the Ibolites went on tour and performed in New York in the United States and Veracruz, Mexico. Two years later they joined the Belize National Dance Company and went on a tour of France and Spain.
In her push to promote Kriol culture, Leela formed the first Kriol Council of Belize in Punta Gorda and when the National Kriol Council came into being in Belize City, she became its first vice president.
On Sunday, February 19, 2017, Leela Vernon died at the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital in Belize City where she had been hospitalized for over a week suffering from chronic renal failure.
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